Saturday, May 31, 2014

Is no "religion" free of violence against "others"

I recently wrote "Criminals hiding behind religion" and "Saints to emulate", about the good and bad done in the name of religion.  Included the Dalai Lama in the second article as a Buddhist to emulate, but even though I knew there were Buddhist terrorists, I didn't take the time to note when and where they were doing their dirty work.

Today, Nicholas Kristof reminded me of where: Myanmar.  See "Obama success or global shame". 

Sometimes these "Buddhists" seem to be in butchery contest with those defilers of the name of Mohammed, Boko Haram.  The Dalai Lama has called for an end to this corruption of Buddhism, but he seems to be having as much effect on reconciling differences as Mahatma Gandhi did on violent Hindus and Muslims.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Reading, writing, and coding?

Some parents, school districts, and companies are pushing for kids as young as seven to be involved in programming computers.  See “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding”, New York Times, May 10, 2014.  Part of the rationale is it is a “basic life skill, one that might someday lead to a great job or even instant riches.”

Or, “Computer science is big right now — in our country, the world,” a mother said. “If my kids aren’t exposed to things like that, they could miss out on potential opportunities and careers.”


Coding is a means to problem solving.  One can code all kinds of things, but if one doesn’t use the “right” language, no amount of coding work will get one a job.  The job market is littered with people who were whiz-bang coders but can’t get jobs because they don’t have the right “skill set”.  Never mind that many programmers have learned and keep learning new languages, if they haven’t learned the language of the day yet they won’t be hired.  See the writings of Norman Matloff.

Matloff, a college professor, is in an enviable position.  He can learn a new computer language, write a book about it, and get people to buy the book; no personnel department checks on his “skill sets”.  He wrote “The Art of R Programming”.  R?  What is that?  I bet most readers never heard of R.  I don’t have space for more description here, but it “is the world’s most popular language for developing statistical software”.  According the publisher, No Starch Press, “Archeologists use it to track the spread of ancient civilizations.”  Didn’t learn R in elementary school?  According to the statements of some, there goes your career in archaeology!

Remember when learning BASIC was the rage.  How many who learned BASIC got jobs using BASIC?

I posted the following comment to the New York Times article.  Unfortunately, it was not accepted, possibly because there were so many more like it already.

“I have been involved with computers for over 50 years, and in some cases was considered a whiz. But I feel somewhat left behind. Not because my problem solving abilities have deteriorated, but because programming languages have become more obtuse.

“The real skill people need is problem solving, whether its why their computer doesn't behave as it did yesterday or why the answering machine message disappeared. I just replaced the answering machine message, now to figure out how to get my wife's iPad to once again access my iPhone hotspot through Bluetooth.

“I might do it, or I might not. I do know I recently figured out a problem that the Geek Squad couldn't. In short, it was about what program was active at the time of the problem.

“Oh, by the way, how well did the rush to learn BASIC a few years ago really work out.”

A better approach might be courses in problem solving in many different disciplines.  How do you make a pleasant melody?  How do you draw?  How do you settle an argument?  What is the true meaning of a set of “statistics”?  What data is needed?  Are we working on the right problem?  How to read a map and plan a route?

“Corporations increasingly are looking for skill-sets. Thinkers need not apply. But is that what we want emerging from our schools? Easily disposable cogs?”  A comment by RuthMarie to “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding?”

As an example of how narrow skill sets are, consider that energy traders in Europe are being laid off because of the move to alternative energy.  They are considered so specialized that they aren’t being hired for other trading jobs.  “Energy Trader Turned Caribbean Surfer Watches Wind for Waves”, Bloomberg, May 21, 2014.  So, a trader in energy can’t learn to trade in steel or bonds or …?

What is happening in the Duluth Public Schools regarding computers and other skills?  You can find the middle and high school course catalogs on the schools’ website (

Sixth graders take a one semester course on computers (see Business Education).  The primary focus is on development of touch typing. Along the way they learn to produce “letters, flyers, memos, tables, outlines, spreadsheet[s],…and slide show presentations.”

To me, these are skills almost all of us need sometime in life.  How many people do you know that still hunt and peck at a keyboard?  How often have you watched a speaker get lost in his or her own PowerPoint presentation?

I had to wait until 11th grade to take typing; it was an elective for me, not a requirement.  It has been one of the two most important classes I took in high school.  The other was driving.  I use these two skills more than anything else I learned in high school.  Driving is no longer offered in many high schools.  I did not find it in the Duluth “High School Course Book”.

What I did find is something for more interesting than the shop courses I took (wood working, metal working, and printing): Pre-engineering!  Who sets print by hand anymore?  All seventh graders are required to take it, and the focus will be on design and modeling.  They will work both individually and in groups.  The lone coder bent over a coding sheet is a myth; his or her work has to mesh with that of lots of other people.

Pre-engineering is part of the “Project Lead the Way” curriculum.  It continues in high school with other courses.  One of the objectives is to “develop students’ innovative, collaborative, cooperative, problem-solving skills.”

Now all we need is more employers who look for generalists rather than narrow specialists.

Mel learned coding at 20, programmed main frames until 44, programmed personal computers until 57, and is still debugging the coding of hotshots at 76.

Published in the Reader Weekly, 29 May 2014 at

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My camera is bare of bear!

I was sitting in our cabin this afternoon when a dark moving shape caught my eye.

It was a small black bear, probably a two or three-year-old.  It sniffed at our fire pit and stuck its snout in the pail of water we keep nearby..

I grabbed my camera and stepped outside.  I made the mistake of making a clucking sound to attract its attention.  I did get its attention and when it saw that eight-foot tall strange critter, it galloped off before I could even frame the picture.

“Eight-foot tall critter”?  A five-foot-nine guy standing on a two-and-a-half foot stoop can look very imposing to an animal who might never have seen a human being.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Was Elmer Fudd in the woods?

Yesterday we heard several gun shots south of our cabin property.  At least, we hope it was south of our property.  We walk along the southern boundary and would not appreciate a hunter on federal land thinking we were game.

I thought that maybe the shooter was hunting rabbits.  Actually hares.  The snowshoe hares (with summer brown coats and some still with white paws) are all over.  They were almost gone for several years and have rebounded so much that we see at least one in our yard every time we walk outside.

When I heard several gunshots, I thought of Elmer Fudd:  “Kill de wabbit!  Kill de wabbit!”

It must have been Elmer Fudd.  He thinks it’s open season on rabbits all the time.  Fudd should pick a different state.  The best I can determine from is that rabbit and hare season is November to February.  The only exception is that an owner or a tenant can kill nuisance rabbits at any time.  Must be Elmer Fudd.  He considers rabbits nuisances wherever he finds them.

The three S's of life

As I watch birds and squirrels at our house and cabin, I ponder the three most important things to these critters – shelter, sustenance, and sex.

They need to seek shelter to protect themselves from the weather and from predators.

They need sustenance to keep themselves going.

They need sex to keep their species going.

Some people watch circling birds and think "free as a bird".  But that bird is rarely flying for the sheer joy of it.  It is most likely circling to search for food or moving to where it thinks food may be more plentiful.

Sometimes they band together to repel predators.  A few years ago, I watched dozens and dozens of crows come up from Lake Superior and join a cacaphonous mob in a neighbor's back yard.  The neighbor later told me that they were congregating to intimidate a great horned owl that was roosting in a trellis.  The crows know that great horned owls attack them as they are roosting at night.  How many other wild animals communicate to others that they should organize for defense?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Saints to emulate

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”, Mark Antony, “Julius Caesar”, by William Shakespeare.

Last week I wrote “Criminals hiding behind religion”, those who use religion to justify violence against others, whether physical or mental.

As an antidote I would like to write about a few people who have a view of religion as a way to help others.

What is a saint?  Many individuals and institutions have their definitions, exemplary behavior, martyrdom, and performing miracles.  I define a saint as one who strives to help others, whether spiritually or physically.  It is these saints whose good is not interred with their bones, but lives after them.

Let’s start with the good about Islam in conflict with the bad in “Islam”.

Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head on a school bus by a Talib who didn’t like her promotion of education for girls above the age of 15.  She survived the attack and is still promoting education to a much wider audience. Her parents support her.  Her view is that Islam is a religion of “peace, humanity and brotherhood.”  To her, the Taliban are “misusing the name of Islam” and are afraid of education.

Going back over a thousand years, there is the legendary Rabia.  She supposedly ran through town with a torch and a pitcher of water.  She wanted to set fire to heaven and quench the fires of hell.  She thought people should love Allah without the promise of heaven or the fear of hell.

The Red Crescent Societies in various Muslim countries are part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.  Among recent activities are aid for Syrian refugees.

Jesus may have been a zealot as described by Reza Aslan or the gentle soul of the Beatitudes or some mixture.  But we would do well to heed his words about getting along with others instead of harshly judging those who differ with us.  He did warn about false religiosity, such as praying in the public square to be seen by others.  What would he think of government meetings being opened by prayer?  Is that “rendering unto Caesar”?

Erasmus was a sixteenth century cleric and scholar.  Although he stayed within the Catholic Church, he was critical of many of its abuses.  He was later accused of hatching the Reformation and his books were banned.  However, his view was much wider than mere doctrine.  For example, “That you are patriotic will be praised by many and easily forgiven by everyone; but in my opinion it is wiser to treat men and things as though we held this world the common fatherland of all.”  See Wikipedia for more.

Dorothy Day was many things, a journalist, a socialist, a communist, a labor activist, and a convert to Catholicism.  Above all else, she believed in justice and serving others.  She was a founding editor of The Catholic Worker from which came a “house of hospitality”, a shelter for the poor where they could also receive clothing and food.  These spread into many cities, and many of us know about the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul.

Mother Theresa is well-known for her “helping the poorest of poor”, but I once read that her hospices had a high death rate.  But then I read elsewhere that she was taking in the dying dumped in the street and allowing them to die in dignity.

Quakers and other church groups gave support to the Underground Railroad, a network to move escaped slaves north.  What a contrast; slaveowners used the Bible to justify slavery and others used the Bible to justify freeing slaves.

Nelson Mandela, baptized a Methodist, became an activist against apartheid.  He was sentenced to life in prison by the apartheid government and served 27 years.  Much of his early time was in solitary confinement or at hard labor.  Despite this treatment, when he was released and eventually became president of South Africa he didn’t seek revenge but sought reconciliation.

The current Dalai Lama is a man who is easy to like.  He is well-known for his wide-ranging generosity on many subjects and his sense of humor.  He considers himself a communist and the Chinese Communists as capitalists.  That is, he puts workers before profits and would like to see the benefits of enterprises shared and the poor better cared for.  On the other hand, he gets along well with all sorts of “capitalists”.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born into a Hindu family.  In his resistance to British rule in South Africa and India, he practiced non-violence and encouraged others to do likewise.  He sought more equity for all – women’s rights, easing poverty, and religious and ethnic tolerance.  He helped achieve independence for India, but he could not prevent religious intolerance from splitting his country in two.  Sadly, he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist.

I thought that the Rabbi Hillel gave a two-part statement of basic belief, but I can only find one of these in a quick search.  Jesus is quoted as saying the first law is “To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”.  He was quoting from Deuteronomy.  Then “And love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you do not do to others.  All the rest is commentary.  Now go and learn.”

Anything in “religious writings” contrary to this last quote is political.

The above was also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth at

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Criminals hiding behind religion

An obscure gang of hoodlums has made world headlines by kidnapping over 300 girls, often by raiding schools.  Boko Haram claims to be following Islam, but are they really?  Most Muslims condemn these actions as against their understanding of Islam as a religion of peace.  The violence perpetrated by Boko Haram is so perverse that even Al Quaeda has distanced itself from them.

“Boko Haram” loosely means “western education is sinful”.  Boko Haram, like many other groups with a rigid agenda, is full of contradictions.  First, if western education is sinful, why are they using weapons, trucks, cars, motorcycles, and now video cameras?  These are all products of western education.  Second, they use obscure passages of sacred texts and completely miss the larger message, that of all major religions, be kind to others.  Kidnapping and massacres are not being kind to others.

Boko Haram doesn’t want girls to be educated, but it conveniently ignores all the Muslim countries with a large percentage of educated women, even countries with a conservative Islam.

Benazir Bhutto was twice elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Afghanistan, where the Taliban keeps trying to overthrow the government because it is not “Islamic” enough, reserves 20 percent of the seats in Parliament for women.

Iran, with its hodgepodge of secular and religious rule, a few years ago had more women in its universities than men.  It also had a hodgepodge of rules varying from university to university including gender-specific restrictions.  Women can’t take computer science and men can’t take Persian/Arabic language!

Unfortunately, hate of others is not limited to Islam.

"Muslims killed my baby!  I want to kill Muslims!”  This was said by a character in the film “Ghandi” with Ben Kingsley.  How could each and every Muslim be responsible for these stupid killings?

Muslims were killed in Guwahati, Assam, India, in sectarian violence.  Sunnis kill Shia, Shia kill Sunnis.  Boko Haram blows up mosques because their leaders don’t follow its dictates.

Ahab and his Canaanite wife, Jezebel, killed the priests of Jehovah.  Then Elijah killed the priests of Ba’al.

Crusade after Crusade marched, with the blessings or incitements by Popes,  to the Holy Land to rescue it from Muslims.

Torquemada,  Grand Inquisitor of Spain, had many tortured to get them to recant heresy.  He was a “moderate”; he “moderated” the use of torture of previous inquisitions.

Jean Calvin brought charges of heresy against Michael Servetus; he suggested Servetus be beheaded.  The government of Geneva decided he should be burnt at the stake.

The Ku Klux Klan, with crosses on their robes, killed blacks for the slightest suspicion of unapproved conduct, and it killed whites who opposed their actions.

In Northern Ireland Catholics killed Protestants and Protestants killed Catholics.  And sometimes they killed their “own” because the latter wanted reconciliation and peace.

Qasim Rashid wrote “What Prophet Muhammad would say to Boko Haram”, Fox News, May 8, 2014.  It is a good exposition of the importance of learning in Islam.  He quotes Muhammad, “Seek knowledge even if you must travel to China” and “The search of knowledge is an obligation laid upon every Muslim.”  Rashid writes, “Fatimah was a Muslim, an African, a female, and literally changed world history through education. Her revolutionary University of al-Qarawiyyin [founded 859] is now the world’s oldest university.”

The comments were a predictable mix of bad taste and prejudice.  A reader “muhammad” summed it up with “I don’t see any difference between Boko Haram and many commenters in this forum.”  The response to his post proved his point.

The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, claims he communicates with God.  How many times have we heard a similar claim by those who hate others?

If God is so powerful, why does He use so many different intermediaries to make His will known?  Few of these intermediaries even agree on what God revealed to them.  Too many of these “intermediaries” have their own agendas.  If I were to believe all that God said directly to these “intermediaries”, I could only conclude that God was schizophrenic.  I doubt that, whatever God is.

I think it is more that certain people are telling God what He should believe and then forcing other people to believe as they do.

Elijah was in a power struggle with Ahab and Jezebel.  Supposedly he challenged the priest of Ba’al to a sacrifice contest.  Would Ba’al ignite the offering of his priests or would Jehovah ignite the offering of Elijah?  Poof!  Jehovah ignited Elijah’s water-soaked offering.  Then Elijah had the people chase down and kill the priests of Ba’al.  Why did Elijah do that?  Did Jehovah use up his bolts of lightning?  Wouldn’t He have an infinite supply of lightning to zap each and every one of these non-believers?

Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church claimed that “God hates fags”.  Hm!  If God hates fags so much, shouldn’t He just boom it out for all to hear?

We can say one thing with certainty about those who claim to speak for God.  They are all fallible beings and probably misunderstood what God told them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A marvelous description of thought

“It may have been the middle of the night, and Alma may have been asleep only moments earlier, but still her mind was a fearfully well-trained machine of botanical calculation, which is why she instantly heard the abacus beads in her brain begin clicking towards an understanding.”
– “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert, page 215, hardcover edition

I read too many online newspapers, not enough books on politics, history, and economics, and way too few novels.  My wife on the other hand reads three or more novels a week.  When she finished “The Signature” she suggested that I read it.

It is a fascinating account of a fictional amateur botanist in the 19th who is marveling at how things change over time.

You can read a fascinating interview with the author at  It also includes a link to a YouTube video of her.

Back to the original Constitution? Be careful what you ask for!

In April, I submitted a letter to the Duluth News Tribune in response to a letter suggesting we should return to the original Constitution.  I think the complaint was all the various Supreme Court decisions.

My letter hadn’t been published and I assumed it was not going to be.  But then the Chuck Frederick, the opinion page editor, found some space, cleaned his desk, and published more than the usual number of letters on May 13.

Mine was:
A letter writer recently stated, “Maybe we should go back to the original Constitution and what it stood for.”  Be careful what you ask for.  There is plenty that was added that many would not like to see removed: Bill of Rights, abolition of slavery, and the vote for women.

Even those who were in politics at the time of the writing of the Constitution could not agree on its meaning.  Thomas Jefferson (in France during the Convention) and John Adams had a long falling out over its meaning.  Adams wanted a strong central government; Jefferson feared a strong central government.
I had thought of submitting a short additional paragraph, but never found a round tuit.  That paragraph is:
Could these views on the central government be influenced by the facts that Adam abhorred slavery and Jefferson was a slave “owner”?
Do these attitudes still persist?  In the South there is still lingering resentment against desegregation.  In  West there is resentment against restrictions on using public resources.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

We have water in our cabin well!

Our 20ft deep pitcher pump well has been dry for at least five years.  This winter we had over six feet of snow, with a max accumulation of over three feet.  Now most of it is gone and we have puddles in low spots on our trails.  We haven’t had so much water in these low spots for years.

So, I gave the well a try.  Well, first, I had to replace the flapper because I had taken the old, dry one out.  But first I had to find the 9/16th socket wrench that I had gotten out of my tool box.  I looked all around the floor of our SUV and the ground around.  Finally, I found it in front of some other boxes. 

Then I had to get some primer water.  For this I used a jug of fresh water we brought from Duluth.  Then I had to find containers for the water.  One was a muddy pail and the other was a “5-gal” joint compound pail that I had used for mixing Quikrete.  The condition of these containers didn’t really matter because we weren’t going to use the water for drinking or washing.

I got the pump put back together and pushed and pulled the handle.  It met resistance rather quickly.  Hurray!  Progress!  Then ploosh!  Out came a nice stream of clear water.  I filled my containers and took them to where my wife was burning old wood in the fire pit.  If nothing more, it sure beat using our fresh water or finding one of the few remaining snow piles.

I don’t know if I’ll bother testing this water or dumping some bleach down to kill whatever.  I think we’ll just use it for the sauna, hand washing, and fire dousing.

Only two questions remain.  Will we have water in the well through to next spring?  How many years will it be before it goes dry again?

For now, I won’t think too hard on these questions.  We’ll just enjoy the extra convenience.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Equal pay for equal work; will it work?

In “Minimum Wage, Inflation, and Personal Experience” (Reader Weekly 2014-03-27) I wrote that I didn’t think wages for many jobs had kept up with inflation.  At least in Minnesota that seems to have been ameliorated a bit.  Congress is still dithering about a minimum wage with the usual suspects filibustering it.  Those members of Congress who think that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is determining wages should read his words about masters organizing to keep wages down.

Now the hot legislative topic is “equal pay for equal work”.  And again, the masters will probably have more sway than the workers.

Just what does “equal pay” mean?  One figure bandied about is that women earn 77 percent of what men do.  But this is the aggregate pay of all women is 77 percent of the aggregate pay of all men.  But this is reflection more about the jobs and hours worked by men and women.  No law is going to change this.

On the other hand, there have been many cases of women starting the same job as men with the same relevant skills but getting less pay, just because they were women.

Equal pay for equal work is a great idea if all other things are equal.  If all other things were equal, we would be robots or bees in a hive.  "Brave New World" anyone?

First what is equal work?

Suppose John and Mary start on the same day with the same pay at a fast-food restaurant.  John is somber, takes orders and money with a minimum number of words, and never smiles.  Mary is outgoing, shows a bit of interest in every customer, and always has a smile.  John takes more orders per day than Mary.  Mary on the other hand takes bigger orders and gets people to come back often.  Should they get the same raise whenever that may happen?

If Dale and Marty graduate from the same school taking the same courses and getting the same grades, then they probably should be offered the same starting salary for doing the same thing.

After a year the company hires Lee and Jan from the same school.  They took the same courses and got the same grades as Dale and Marty did.  They are placed in jobs doing the same thing as Dale and Marty.

After a year on the job, Dale and Marty expect an annual raise because of their increased experience.  Should Lee and Jan get the same pay as Dale and Marty?  If the pay of all four were equal, the first two might consider going to another company where they will get more pay.

Now suppose after five years Dale takes a year off to have a baby.  When she returns should she get the same pay as Marty or the same pay as Lee and Jan?

Suppose after another couple of years Jan takes a year off to go skiing all over the world.  When he returns should he get the same pay as Dale and Lee?

Suppose after a few more years Dale has a very good year.  She solves some really tough problems and implements some great innovations.  She gets a raise that gives her a higher salary than Marty.  The next year she performs about the same as Marty.  When annual raises are given, should she get none thus once again getting the same pay as Marty?  Oops!  There goes another employee to the competition.

After a couple of more years Lee takes some leadership on a project.  As a reward management gives her a supervisory position which raises her pay to greater than that of Dale.  But she spends only half of her time on supervisory tasks.  The rest of the time she is doing exactly the same work as the other three.  Should her pay go up and down with what she is doing?

When I worked some late hours at Univac, we defined a good manager as the person who operates the copier when things get busy late at night.  That is, the manager is not just reading a summary of the work the next morning, but providing moral support with presence.  Should the manager get less pay for the time spent observing and doing menial tasks?

Consider the varied tasks of a grocery store manager.  The manager obviously hires new people, sees that they are properly trained, and evaluates their performance.  The manager has to oversee the accounting of receipts and bills, ordering of groceries, and the stocking of shelves.  The manager might also bag groceries, check out customers, stock some shelves, and even sweep the floor when everybody else is busy with customers.  Should the manager track his or her time so that he or she gets equal pay for equal work?

Fair pay takes more thought than a simple slogan.  To achieve fairer pay for more people, you have to do two things.

Join a union.  Unions have a long history starting with the American Revolution.  Remember “United we stand, divided we fall.”  “We, the people,… to form a more perfect union…”

Always vote.  Don’t be a stay-at-home who lets the “wrong” side win.  Remember “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Shoot first, then call cops?

The latest incident of gun owners taking the law into their own hands happened in Missoula, Montana.  A German exchange student was killed because he foolishly tried on a lark to snitch something from a garage.  See “An Open Garage, a Dead Exchange Student and a New Debate on Self-Defense”, Jack Healy, New York Times, 2014-05-07

What is is about some gun-owners that they follow the supposed credo of the 20th Century Westerns to shoot first, ask questions second?

The most egregious killing was by Byron David Smith of Little Falls, Minnesota.  He not only shot teen-age, unarmed invaders multiple times, but he waited three days before calling the police.  He didn’t want to bother them on Thanksgiving!!!  See “Bryon David Smith killings”.  Smith was sentenced to life without parole.

Yoshihiro Hattori, killed in Baton Rouge in 1992 for going to the wrong house, didn’t receive similar justice.  His killer, Rodney Peairs, was acquitted.  He admitted at trial that he didn’t call the police first.  See  His parents did receive a cash settlement that they used for funds for high school students to visit Japan and for gun control.  Peairs had said that he would never own a gun again.

This same Wikipedia article has a couple other cases of foreign visitors being killed by guns, including one who knocked on a door to ask for directions.

Maybe it was the movie Westerns of the 20th Century that fostered this cult of “self-defense”.  See “How the Gunfighter Killed Bourgeois America”, Ryan McMaken.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Personal and corporate screw-ups

I received a letter today from Minnesota Revenue that I still owed income taxes for 2013.

My first look at my spreadsheet didn’t find anything wrong.  Maybe the state wasn’t considering the tax withheld by payers to us.  When I looked further, I had put fixed data in a worksheet rather than linking to a figure elsewhere.  Ouch!

I won’t let the state off entirely.  The letter only listed the estimated tax payments I had made, not the tax withheld.

As I was adjusting my spreadsheet, Microsoft sent a notice that upgrades to Office were available.  I waited for these to be downloaded and installed, and then continued my correction of my tax spreadsheet.

The download or my correction may have been a big mistake.  Excel crashed twice!  The restored spreadsheet looked was altered in bad ways.  Not only were the fonts in some cells changed, the size and shading of a window was changed.  The resulting sheets were ugly!

Speaking of spreadsheets, I won’t let Apple get off the hook.  For some reason, Apple has not included named cells or groups of cells in Numbers as in Excel.  One has to use an obscure coding using a page name and row numbers and column letters.  At least, if one changes the location of the cell or group, Numbers does adjust for the change.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

I am an Olive grinch

How readable do you think the following is?

Yet some parameters endure. Phi losopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Not precisely, perhaps, but human history, both personally and collec tively, is definitely thematic. And you didn’t record it, you either won’ recall it, or your memory of it will faulty. Historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, “The unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree the primeval forest which fell with out being heard.” Perhaps that’s why launched the log — it made me seem more real. Or maybe the record is akin to scratches on the wall of a prisoner’ cell, tallying the days until release.

What kind of editor would let this text see print, what with dropped letters/punctuation and split words?  Other examples have bold subtitles moved into the text and many other distracting errors.

This is an example of “To err is human; to really screw up it takes a computer”.  The above is from “The snares and lairs of memory” by Peter M. Leschack in the Star Tribune, 4 May 2014, as displayed when expanding an article from the facsimile page of the Olive edition.

The actual printed text is:

Yet some parameters endure. Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Not precisely, perhaps, but human history, both personally and collectively, is definitely thematic. And if you didn’t record it, you either won’t recall it, or your memory of it will be faulty. Historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, “The unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard.” Perhaps that’s why I launched the log — it made me seem more real. Or maybe the record is akin to scratches on the wall of a prisoner’s cell, tallying the days until release.

The human editor didn’t make any mistakes, but the computer editor really screwed up.  This happens all the time in the Olive edition of both the Duluth News Tribune and the Star Tribune.  The Olive edition displays a facsimile of the printed newspaper.  You can easily “flip” the pages or jump to a section.  You can click on an article to expand it.

The expanded view has the advantage of bringing together segments printed on different pages and of having larger text.  But all the “translation” errors are distracting.  Did the author really write that?  Why is that unrelated bold text doing in this section?  And on and on.

This computer-induced garble is present in both the iPad and the laptop/desktop versions of the software.

Isn’t this a wonderful example of “business efficiency”?

Oh, well!  It still beats going to the corner with the right change in all kinds of weather or calling up to cancel when we’re out of town.  And I can easily make clippings of things on which I want to base another one of these whining entries.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Second Amendment v. Article I, Section 8

"Everybody" seems to know exactly what the following means:

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

This was ratified by the States and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State authenticated it.

However, what Congress passed was:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Just what does the missing comma mean?  I'll defer to grammarians on this, but if there is any difference in meaning, it makes it harder to determine the intent of Congress.

Whatever, Cliven Bundy and his supporters are using "the right to bear arms" as a justification of his armed refusal to obey a court order that the Bureau of Land Management should confiscate his cattle for his non-payment of fees for use of Federal Land.

He seems to be ignoring Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that includes:

“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

“To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;”

Thus my general tendency to regard as wholly untenable any approach to the Constitution that describes itself as obviously correct and condemns its opposition as simply wrong holds for the Second Amendment as well.  The Constitution contains too many phrases that are open to interpretation.

A Tea Party member stated on a To the Best of Our Knowledge broadcast that she could determine the writers' intent by reading the Constitution.  She must be more knowledgable than the Justices of the Supreme Court.  They rarely have unanimous decisions. Even if they do, the decision can be overturned by a later court.  Consider that the "separate by equal" case justifying school segregation was overturned later by "Brown vs, Board of Education".

Even decisions on the Second Amendment have changed over time.

One of the early cases was US v. Cruikshank (1876) where the defendants were accused of threatening citizens of African descent who were exercising their own rights to peaceably assemble.

If the Second Amendment was intended as an individual right, then shouldn’t the slaves have had the right to bear arms for self-defense against oppressive slave owners and overreaching state governments that condoned slavery?

In Presser v. Illinois (1886), Presser claimed that the armed parade he was leading was protected by the Second Amendment.  Illinois law forbade anybody to form a military company without a license from the state.  The Supreme Court ruled against Presser.  Among the arguments was,  “The exercise of this power [to regulate the militia] by the states is necessary to the public peace, safety, and good order. To deny the power would be to deny the right of the state to disperse assemblages organized for sedition and treason, and the right to suppress armed mobs bent on riot and rapine.”

Justice James Clark McReynolds wrote the opinion in US vs. Miller (1939) that The National Firearms Act was not unconstitutional as an invasion of the reserved powers of the States and not violative of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.  McReynolds was a very conservative judge who opposed much of Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation.
Then everything changed with District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008.  One of the pronouncements is “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

This reads as if written by an “activist judge” who interprets the Constitution to suit ideological beliefs rather than what the Constitution actually says.  This is surprising to come from a judge appointed by a president of a party who long railed against “activist judges”.

I wonder if the current Supreme Court would rule in Cliven Bundy’s favor because the Congress does not have the authority to call out the militia “to suppress insurrections”.  I wonder that if many in Congress voted to call out the militia would the Republicans then do everything they could to stop this action.

As so many of us are, the Republicans seem to be selective in which laws they support and which they oppose.  Are not laws prohibiting abortion an imposition on individual liberty?  Are not laws favoring certain religious views in schools an imposition on those who do not have those views?

And Republicans seem the most eager to have a large standing army to go anywhere the President wants for whatever reason.  Boy!  Talk about not following the intent of the Founders.

What is an independent to do?  “Conservatives” want to go back to a past that never was, and “Liberals” want a future that will never be.